Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

A Capabilities Perspective on Education Quality: Implications for Foundation Phase Teacher Education Programme Design

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

A Capabilities Perspective on Education Quality: Implications for Foundation Phase Teacher Education Programme Design

Article excerpt

Discourses on education quality: issues and debates

Many governments and communities across the globe are faced with the challenge of providing their citizens with good quality education. This is especially so in those countries that have experienced rapid growth in student enrolment figures as a result of the Education for All (EFA) agenda, amid growing evidence of a simultaneous decline in learner achievement levels (UNESCO, 2004).

Education quality is currently attracting a great deal of attention in South Africa. This is due, inter alia, to the persistence of racial and regional inequalities in learner achievement levels (Van der Berg, 2007; DBE, 2010), and a critical skills shortage in scientific and technological spheres which is threatening not only the country's path to sustainable economic growth, but also its economic competiveness at global level (Pennington, 2011). Among wide-scale interventions designed to address this challenge is one targeting improvements at Foundation Phase (FP) level, within which context the current research has been carried out. The article aims to advance discussions on education quality through critical engagement with the capabilities approach, against a background of critiques of dominant current discourses. It concludes that the capabilities approach has the potential to significantly enrich education quality thinking and practice, and describes how its principles are being interpreted within the new Rhodes University B.Ed. (Foundation Phase) programme, currently being developed.

Approaches to education quality

Few issues in education have stimulated as much public debate as that of education quality and its evaluation (Nsubuga, 2011). Many definitions have been offered of 'a quality education' and, based on these, governments and international bodies have made many attempts to define and assess 'education quality' (a term usually associated with monitoring and measurement) (Barrett, Chaula-Duggan, Lowe, Nikel & Ukpo, 2006; Tikly, 2011; Tikly & Barrett, 2009). Is a quality education one that prepares the learner for the world of work, maximising his/her earning power, and contributing to national GDP? Is it one that liberates the mind, or one that familiarises a student with the world's great artistic and scientific achievements? Is it one that encourages critical thinking, promotes human rights, or instils discipline? With numerous options such as these available, the lack of agreement in the literature on what education quality entails is not surprising. The assessment of quality requires identification of its dimensions and the development of appropriate indicators (UNESCO, 2004; Tikly & Barrett, 2011; Tikly, 2011). Depending on the concept of quality, findings are obtained through testing and computation, or through some kind of qualitative process. Thus, the multiplicity of education quality conceptions affects not only how it is understood and researched, but also the design and implementation of assessment, monitoring and improvement strategies.

This article does not allow for a full exploration of this complex field. It examines in some detail the capabilities approach to education quality against the background of critical outlines of the human capital and the human rights approaches (Tikly & Barrett, 2011; Tikly, 2011), both dominant currently. This is followed by an example of the capabilities approach in action.

Human capital approach

Quality education from the human capital (HC) perspective is education that equips learners with knowledge, competences and skills which increase personal earnings and contribute to economic productivity (Robeyns, 2006). From this point of view, the purpose of investing in education is to contribute to national economic development (Robeyns, 2006; Tikly & Barrett, 2011; Tikly, 2011). Within this framework, preferred indicators of education quality relate to measurable inputs and outputs, for example teacher numbers, cost of resources, enrolment and retention figures, GDP and scores in assessment tests (Alexander, 2008, Tikly & Barrett, 2011). …

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